After World War I, due to the post-war depression, the wages drastically reduced and unions lost a lot of members. However, in the preceding years the unions started gaining superiority due to deterioration of the relationship between the employees and employers. The labor unions which acted as the worker’s representatives were ignored by both the employers and the government. The workers were frustrated in that they opted to form and join the industrial and national unionism. An example of a union that dominated in the early 1920s was the One Big Union (OBU) that was formed to cater to the needs of the workers after they considered the Trades Labor Council (TLC) ineffective. However, the OBU gradually declined over time due to the unfavorable government and employer policies.
The stock market crash that was experienced in the late 1920s was of great effect to the people of Canada. Many of these people were left without jobs, thereby being unable to meet their daily needs. During this era of depression, the workers were more agitated such that there was an increment in pressure by the labor unions on the federal government. The employers felt the pressure and decided to apply the approach of the “carrot and stick” in an attempt to slow down the operations of the labor unions. The employers could sometimes engage in negotiations with the labor unions as a way of finding resolutions. However, at times when workers engaged in strikes, the employers in coalition with the federal government could use coercion through the police.
The federal government officials in most cases were not consulting the Canadian Union members on major issues involving the workers. The labor unions were embarrassed to the extent that they started becoming more vigorous in presenting their grievances. In the early 1930s, there were few workers in organized into unions due to the effects of the economic depression experienced earlier. Many workers were jobless thereby did not get the opportunities of forming strong unions. However, towards the end of the same period, there was a dramatic increment in Canada’s Catholic, industrial and craft unions that were formed to protect the members from the harsh treatment of the carrot and stick.
In 1939, the growth of union militancy in Canada emerged which eventually led to the commencement of the Second World War. The unions were determined in forcing the federal government to consider their demands. The government and employers joined their efforts in handling the situation through the use of force and scab workers in industries. However, all these policies were not successful; the unions organized their members to the Second World War.
The Snider case emerged in 1923 when the Toronto Electric Commission (TEC) was involved in a serious labor dispute over the working conditions and wages of workers with the Canadian Electrical trades union. The union exercised its rights under the Industrial Disputes and Investigation Act (IDIA) and asked for the creation of a Board of Conciliation and Investigation to settle the conflicts. The TEC undermined the board’s authority and sought the Supreme Court injunction to stop the operations of the board under the IDIA. The TEC later on regarded the implementation of the IDIA as being unconstitutional.
The Commission pursued their case to the Supreme Court of Ontario, asking it to offer a permanent injunction. The case was heard and the court mandated the IDIA remain under the control of the federal government. The court further asserted that the IDIA was not for municipal institutions or the civil rights but rather about the machinery provision to handle various disputes that elicited any effect on the national government. Upon failure of the case, the Commission proceeded to JCPC, which was the final court in the entire Canada. The court differed with the earlier decision of other courts and rather declared that the IDIA was beyond the powers of the Canadian parliament. The Privy Council with due considerations came up to a decision that the IDIA was unconstitutional. The ruling was that the IDIA dealt with municipal institutions and civil rights, which both happened to be provincial matters.
In due consideration of the decisions of Snider’s case, the constitutionality of IDIA was strongly defended based on three aspects, namely the power; to legislate in matters of criminal law, to regulate commerce and trade, and make the order laws.
After the ruling of the Snider’s case, the federal government initiated various amendments on the IDIA to outline that it could only apply to issues that were not contained in the jurisdiction provinces. Also, its application to industries federally regulated and the federally incorporated companies was restricted. However, the rule still could apply in various national emergency scenarios and in occasions where the provinces opt to use it provincially. By 1928, six provinces legislated similar laws to the IDIA with the intent of making same principles be applied all over the provinces. By 1932, it was only the province of Prince Edward Island that had not implemented the changes.
Later on, in the World War II, the federal jurisdiction was restored through the enactment of the Wartime Labor Relations Regulations that was in operation till 1947. Henceforth, the provinces possessed their jurisdiction; the federal authority extended only to federally regulated industries, and the labor relations was eventually regulated from one province to another.
After New York City experienced the stock market crash in 1929, the Western world faced a serious economic crisis. Unemployment rates dramatically increased in Canada as a result of the poorly designed policies that the federal government applied. In 1932, the government created relief and work camps that accommodated homeless and unemployed people all over the country. Many people in the camps were later dissatisfied with the working conditions and their lifestyle and moved out of the camps in 1935. They engaged in riots and strikes that were aimed at pressuring the government to create job opportunities for them. They were from British Columbia and headed to Vancouver saying that the camps were not promising at all regarding their future. The strikers engaged in continuous demonstrations upon which they attracted support from other citizens in Canada. In Vancouver, women contributed towards helping the poor strikers by holding a picnic that raised some money at their help. This was a clear indicator to Bennett to formulate strategies to curb the rising poverty levels. Responding to their claims, Mayor McGeer explained to them how the Municipal Council was unable to solve their needs and rather requested them to go back to the camps. They could later finance a group of people to present their claims to Ottawa, an option that the strikers did not consider.
Around 1000 men decided to present the demands of the people to Ottawa whereby they were to use a train as a means of transport. However, through the intervention of the prime minister, they were not allowed to use the train. Later on, eight men were determined and took a walk all the way long to Ottawa to present the grievances of individuals in the camps as more than 2000 others settled at Regina. They were accommodated by other well-wishing citizens, and also the government of Saskatchewan sustained them for the period they were at Regina. However, the prime minister rejected their demands, and the eight men joined their fellows at Regina. On July 1935, the public protest was organized but was brought down by the police under tough encounters that claimed some lives.
With the occurrence of the “on to Ottawa Trek”, Bennett’s conservative government was highly was discredited. The federal elections were carried out in 1935, Bennett’s party lost seats that it initially held, from 134 seats to holding only 39.At the end of the “on to Ottawa Trek” people who were demonstrating dispersed, some men were sentenced as others went back to their work camps. Prime Minister Bennet won although his reputation was destroyed. This was of great impact to the Canada’s federal government. It’s the Saskatchewan authorities that provided the people in camps with transportation mechanisms back to the western localities. Later, the camps were removed but replaced by seasonal relief camps that were controlled by provinces and slightly increased the pay of the workers. Some of the demands of the trekkers that included; wage increment, union wages for the skilled individuals, extension of crucial acts like Workman’s Compensation Act among others were met.
By 1935, some labor and capital sectors in various parts of Canada had reached a limited accord. There was little expansion in trade unionism as the government had declined its authority to prevent the employers from discriminating against the trade union members. Later on the joining of trade unions created a more militant and a new industrial brand of unionism in the country. The increment in depression, The Prime Minister opted to introduce new policies in Canada based on Franklin Delano New Deal that were implemented in the U.S. The development of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the United States also increased the effect of the trade unions that opted to utilize the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in airing their demands. The act required the employers to recognize the trade unions and bargain with them and prohibited them from carrying out various unfair practices on the workers. However, in Canada, the formation of the CIO and the enactment of the NLRA in the U.S. contained very minimal resonance. This is due to various restrictions that were imposed by the federal government.
In Canada, the federal government lacked the jurisdiction to stop the unfair practices of the employers, a reason for the formation of Freedom of Trade Union Association Act (FTUAA), an act that was to be developed in line with NIRA labor provisions instead of the NLRA. The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was legislated in 1933 and among its provisions was that it allowed the employees to engage and organize themselves towards collective bargaining with respective employers in various industries. However, it was later declared unconstitutional by Schechter Poultry decision in 1935. The labor unions considered the bill as not satisfactory as it did not contain the issues handled in the NLRA, which led to the formation of another bill that contained desirable contents of the NLRA. Although with increased pressures from the unions like CCF, the workers collective bargaining freedom was poorly enforced with the employers rights of contract and property being highly protected.
With the failure of the Neal Deal policies in Canada, due to challenges from the provinces on the rights of the federal government in effectively administering the policies, the government opted to reconstitute the policy of capitalism to municipal and provincial levels of the country. In Ontario, one of the provinces, Ontario’s 1935 Industrial Act (ISA) was legislated to unite the employers and workers under the regulation of the government to establish workers working conditions and minimal wages. A portion of the New Deal elements was integrated into the formulated policies, the application of industrial codes in the mobilization of organized labor to deal with unfair competition for instance.
After the World War II, all the existing unions were compelled to comply with the newly formulated employer-worker procedurals and their consequent limitations on the labor rights. In other words, all the industrial unions were to comply with the employers’ control over the work process, skill distribution, the division of labor, use of new technology and the recruitment practices. The Industrial unions were once more in the difficulty of eliminating the existence of segregation of immigrants and women to the lowly paying jobs. The segregation was facilitated by men’s unionism who strongly believed that women were not expected to work but rather stay at home and depend on their male partners’ wages.
According to the provincial and federal governments, the unionized employees were only eligible for what their powers could be able to extract from their employers. In most cases, the employers won over the unions the right to industry-wide bargaining and advocated for individual plant bargaining. The Canadian capitalist after that could force the workers to be focused on the concerns of their workplace and employers, as opposed to working solidarity as an industry. The earlier tendency of workers to make direct actions like strikes and riots and to undermine management orders were replaced bureaucratic procedures that were slow. Workers were restricted from carrying out strikes as it was in the previous eras due to the control of the behavior by legislations. Also, the unions had the obligation of persuading the workers to be their signatories and pay dues as one way of getting recognition as opposed to earlier eras whereby protests were opted. The union leaders took the role of preventing the workers under their unions from engaging themselves in strikes.
The bureaucratic laws of labor that were introduced in this period changed unionism in the entire Canada. The unions of workers changed their methods of handling issues from mobilizing the workers to engaging in negotiations with the relevant bodies and administering various contracts. Also, the workers’ unions as a deliberate action slowed down from engaging in electoral politics due to the presence of hostility between communists and social democrats that dominated in Canada after the Second World War. Also, the diminishing relevance and powers of the CCF lead to the withdrawal of unions from politics. This was due to the loss of seats in the legislatures.
The new laws that were implemented after World War II forced the workers to make and also enforce the workplace concessions that turned out to give the workers more economic security. During this period, many workers excluded themselves from organized labor. Other employees in the small scale sectors survived in lower wages and low job security as compared to employees in unionized industries. Most provincial and federal servants were unionized and were excluded from collective bargaining legislations.